Jason Hodges, Class of 1989, gave the following speech at the Spring Matching Fund-raiser in May. It has been edited to fit the space.
Nancy has been a large part of my life since 1985. She handed me my high school diploma. She gave me the job that started my adult working career. She mentored me and signed my pay checks for six years, and she danced in a Flash Mob before officiating my wedding ceremony. Other than my parents and my husband, Nancy has been the biggest influence in my life. I’ve learned so many lessons from Nancy. I want to share three of those with you:
Lesson Number One: Keep it fun.
Anyone who knows Nancy knows that she takes things seriously. Running a nonprofit, running a school is serious business. There’s never enough money, time or people to do it all. Nancy would tell me how she came in at 5 AM to get work done. Despite those sleepless nights, those worries, and concerns, Nancy wanted the work and this place to be fun. There were ice breakers at staff and faculty gatherings.
There was the scavenger hunt during the construction of this building where the faculty and staff had to find objects and places across the new construction in order to gain access to the Christmas Party that year.
She was always trying to find fun things to do at HIPOW to make the event more engaging and more memorable.
Lesson #2: It’s about the little things.
When I worked with Nancy, she was a walking phone book. Nancy was like Siri before Siri was Siri. You could ask her for a phone number and she would know it. She would brag that if she dialed a wrong number, she could pretend like she meant to dial it because she would often know the person she accidentally dialed.
While serving as development director, I wrote A LOT. Newsletters, solicitations letters, brochure copy, and recruitment materials were all given a final edit by Nancy. Jo Schlotfeldt was a crack editor, and even with her eagle eye, invariably something would escape and Nancy would find it on the final pass. Nancy was often more knowledgable about people’s details, including their ZIP Codes, than the expensive database we purchased. She could hold the budget of the schools in her head and still manage to know what year each member of the Stepoviches, Jackoviches, Ringstads, Kellys and Vacuras graduated from Monroe.
On my 16th birthday, which was nearly 32 years ago, right outside the Monroe Principal’s office was a bulletin board. On the morning of my 16th birthday, pinned to the board was a card with my name on it. It was a birthday card from Nancy. I don’t remember the exact words that she had written, but it was something along the lines of “watch out people of Fairbanks, Jason has his driver’s license now!”
It was a small gesture that, almost 32 years later, has more meaning to me now than it did to that 16-year old boy who received it.
Lesson # 3: We’re all human.
When Nancy retired for the first time in 2003, it was very emotional for many of us. We had a final staff meeting where she asked us, “how many people work at the schools?” At the time it was about 60-70 people. She asked us “how many mistakes does a person make in a day.” I think as a group we agreed that 10 mistakes wasn’t out of the question. I’m pretty sure my younger self was throwing off that average back then. She said “that’s about 600 mistakes that will be made on a daily basis.” And that doesn’t even count the ones the kids will be making. As she was leaving, she was telling us: we’re not perfect, and we need to be good to one another. We needed to recognize each of us is prone to messing it up in ways big and small, without any ill intention, AND we need to be able to treat each other with love, compassion, acceptance, and understanding. We need to remember we’re all human.
And Nancy knows this better than anyone because Nancy is also so very human. She sometimes loses her patience. She drives too fast to the lake, which has elicited speeding tickets in the past. She sometimes curses in ways that would make a truck driver say, “hey now, Nancy, you gotta check yourself.”
There are so many people, so many students who have been the recipients of her love, compassion, and understanding. Kids who got themselves into trouble and had no where else to turn, people like myself who were struggling with identity who needed acceptance.
Families who were on the edge and couldn’t afford to be here. Nancy helped, intervened, and championed those who needed it most.
Many of these stories will go untold and remain in the hearts of those who benefitted. When she shared compassion with those who most needed, even at times when some might not have approved, guess what? The world didn’t come to an end. And those who needed that love, understanding, and acceptance received and incredible gift.
I left the CSF family in 2005 after nearly 12 years of service. I found another organization and cause—the performing arts—that I was equally passionate about. For the last 14 years, I’ve had the honor of bringing musicians, singers, and performers of all stripes from across the world to Alaska. My favorite part of my job is at the end of a show, after the last song has been sung, after the last note has been played, and as the performers take their bow, the audience rises to its feet, clapping and expressing their gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.
Nancy has performed her roles—teacher, principal, director—with virtuosity and skill. She has served the students, parents, teachers, these schools, and the entire community. It is only fitting that we rise to our feet and express our gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.